John Trudell, 1946-2015. Family photo from Facebook

American Indian Movement activist John Trudell passes on at 69

John Trudell, the legendary American Indian Movement activist who found success as a recording artist, passed away on Tuesday. He was 69.

Trudell, who was a member of the Santee Sioux Tribe, died at his home in Santa Clara, California, his family said in a press release. He was battling cancer and was surrounded by friends and relatives as he entered the spirit world.

"I appreciate all of your expressions of concern, and I appreciate all of your expressions of love. It has been like a fire to my heart," Trudell said before his passing, according to his family "Thank you all for that fire. But please don't worry about me."

"I don't want to tell people how to remember me," Trudell added. "I want people to remember me as they remember me."

John Trudell during the occupation at Alcatraz in California. Photo: Michelle Vignes

Indian Country will remember Trudell as a leader who stood up for justice and civil rights throughout his life. He rose to prominence after serving as a spokesperson for the 1969 occupation at Alcatraz in California and served as chairman of AIM for most of the 1970s, a tumultuous time that saw the occupation at Wounded Knee in 1973 and the conviction of fellow activist Leonard Peltier, who remains imprisoned for the murders of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

"I never really looked at my role as being an order giver, it was more to speak," Trudell would later say in federal court in 2004 during the trial into the murder of fellow activist Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, who was killed at Pine Ridge.

Trudell's public involvement with AIM, though, came to a close in 1979 after tragedy struck his family. Tina Manning, Trudell's pregnant wife, their three children and Manning's mother were killed in a fire on the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada in February of that year.

The incident was suspected to be arson but no one was ever charged and the local Bureau of Indian Affairs claimed it was an accident. It occurred just hours after Trudell led a protest in Washington, D.C., that included him burning at U.S. flag at the headquarters of the FBI.

YouTube: John Trudell speaks at a Jackson Browne Concert

"I know that the pain John experienced is impossible to understand," the late Wilma Mankiller, who participated in the Alcatraz occupation and later became the first woman to lead the Cherokee Nation, wrote in her book, Mankiller: A Chief and Her People.

Trudell didn't fall out of the spotlight though. He emerged as a successful poet, writer, actor and performing artist and was known for his collaborations with luminaries like Jackson Browne and Kris Kristofferson. His recordings, as a solo artist and with his band Bad Dog, drew critical acclaim and numerous accolades.

"I'm unprepared," a speechless Trudell said in November 2000 after he was named Artist of the Year at the Native American Music Awards.

Trudell later worked with Native filmmaker Heather Rae on a documentary of his life. Trudell came out in 2005 and featured recollections from actor Robert Redford and musician Bonnie Raitt.

"The conversations I had with him were explosive in their insights, they were exciting," Redford said in the film. "I would imagine it was not too dissimilar for what some people feel when they talk to the Dalai Lama. John was way ahead of the game."

Trudell's family has not announced details for service or burial.


A photo posted by Heather Rae (@ponygirl22) on

Additional Coverage:
Remembering the Life and Legacy of John Trudell (Indian Country Today 12/8)
Poet, activist John Trudell dies at 69 (CBC 12/8)
John Trudell: Human Being (Counterpunch 12/9)
John Trudell, American Indian Movement activist, poet and actor, dies in California at 69 (AP 12/9)
John Trudell, Native American Activist and Artist, Dies at 69 (KQED 12/9)
RIP John Trudell, Longtime Native American Activist; Hear Him Read One of His Poems in 1998 (Democracy Now 12/9)
John Trudell: Requiem for a Hemp Warrior (CelebStoner 12/9)
John Trudell, Outspoken Advocate for American Indians, Is Dead at 69 (The New York Times 12/10)

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